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Michael Gervais, a renowned psychologist who has spent his career consulting elite athletes, spoke about the role our minds play in overcoming our fears and reaching our greatest potential.
The speaker began by defining high performance as a state in which an individual is able to face his/her fears and find a ‘flow’ in which his/her actions are not undermined by anxiety. He described some pivotal points in the thought processes that allow a person to reach this state. First of all, he believes that the ability to develop a disciplined and focused mind is present in all of us, and although it may require a long journey, we can achieve an inner stillness and rise above the fears that limit our performance.
He went on to discuss fear and the fact that we have instinctive behavior controlled by our DNA which triggers our anxiety when we face risks. In order to overcome this innate reaction, we must identify, embrace, and learn how to handle our fears. One thing for sure, he said, is that we live on the edge of fear all the time, we are often caught between the initiatives of ‘here I go’ and ‘stop’, don’t take the chance. However, he explained, panic most often prevents us from taking action, and this is the worst thing we can do.
He spoke of some of the tools or thought processes that can aid a person in overcoming this natural fear of risk. In order to master our fears, he explained, we must build the capacity to override our DNA and differentiate real threats from imaginary ones. When we perceive a threat, our heart rate increases, we lose concentration, and anxiety takes over. Some people begin to over think and lose concentration and confidence. This is when we must be able to find the calmness that comes with deep concentration and what he termed ‘primed flow’.
This state of primed flow is one in which we control our thoughts instead of our thoughts controlling us. There is mindfulness and a calm intensity that gives the person the ability to act according to his/her desire to succeed and not be controlled by his/her fear of failure. This is what makes the difference between a person who does his/her personal best and those who become the best in the world.